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The road to global decarbonization must involve

P OLICY FORUM renewable energy, as from these wind turbines in

Germany, and improved transportation technologies.

sistent with the trajectory of the past decade

(see the figure, bottom left). All sectors (e.g.,
agriculture, construction, finance, manufac-
turing, transport) need comparable transfor-
mation pathways. In addition, in the absence
of viable alternatives, the world must aim at
rapidly scaling up CO2 removal by technical
means from zero to at least 0.5 GtCO2/year by
2030, 2.5 by 2040, and 5 by 2050. CO2 emis-
sions from land-use must decrease along a
nonlinear trajectory from 4 GtCO2/year in
2010, to 2 by 2030, 1 by 2040, and 0 by 2050
(see the figure, bottom right). The endgame
is for cumulative CO2 emissions since 2017 to

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CLIMATE POLICY be brought back from around 700 GtCO2 to
below 200 GtCO2 by the end of the century

A roadmap for rapid (see the figure, top) and atmospheric CO2
concentrations to return to 380 ppm by 2100
(currently at 400 ppm).
decarbonization Roadmaps are planning instruments, link-
ing shorter-term targets to longer-term goals.
They help align actors and organizations to in-
Emissions inevitably approach zero with a carbon law stigate technological and institutional break-
throughs to meet a collective challenge. An
By Johan Rockstrm,1 Owen Gaffney,1,2 pose framing the decarbonization challenge explicit carbon roadmap for halving anthro-
Joeri Rogelj,3,4 Malte Meinshausen,5,6 in terms of a global decadal roadmap based pogenic emissions every decade, codesigned
Nebojsa Nakicenovic,4 Hans Joachim on a simple heuristica carbon lawof by and for all industry sectors, could help
Schellnhuber1,5 halving gross anthropogenic carbon-diox- promote disruptive, nonlinear technological
ide (CO2) emissions every decade. Comple- advances toward a zero-emissions world. The

lthough the Paris Agreements goals (1) mented by immediately instigated, scalable key to such a carbon law will be a dual strat-
are aligned with science (2) and can, in carbon removal and efforts to ramp down egy that pushes renewables and other zero-
principle, be technically and economi- land-use CO2 emissions, this can lead to net- emissions technologies up the creation and
cally achieved (3), alarming inconsis- zero emissions around mid-century, a path dissemination trajectory, while simultane-
tencies remain between science-based necessary to limit warming to well below 2C. ously pulling fossil-based value propositions
targets and national commitments. The Paris goal translates into a finite plan- from the market. Thus, the transformation
Despite progress during the 2016 Marrakech etary carbon budget: a 50% chance of limit- unfolds at a pace governed by novel schemes
climate negotiations, long-term goals can ing warming to 1.5C by 2100 and a >66% rather than by inertia imposed by incumbent
be trumped by political short-termism. Fol- probability of meeting the 2C target imply technologies (see the figure, bottom left).
lowing the Agreement, which became inter- that global CO2 emissions peak no later than We sketch out a broad decadal decar-
national law earlier than expected, several 2020, and gross emissions decline from ~40 bonization narrative in four dimensions
countries published mid-century decar- gigatons (metric) of carbon dioxide (GtCO2)/ innovation, institutions, infrastructures, and
bonization strategies, with more due soon. year in 2020, to ~24 by 2030, ~14 by 2040, investmentto provide evidence of feasibility
Model-based decarbonization assessments and ~5 by 2050 (3) (see the figure, top). and depth of transformation for economies to
(4) and scenarios often struggle to capture Risks could be further reduced by moder- stay on a carbon-law trajectory. The narrative
transformative change and the dynamics as- ately increasing ambition to halve emissions provides no guarantees but identifies crucial
sociated with it: disruption, innovation, and every decade (see the figure, bottom right). steps, grounded in published scenarios com-
nonlinear change in human behavior. For ex- Following such a global carbon law means bined with expert judgment. Each step has
ample, in just 2 years, Chinas coal use swung at least limiting cumulative total CO2 emis- two parts: actions for rapid near-term emis-
from 3.7% growth in 2013 to a decline of 3.7% sions from 2017 until the end of the century sions reductions, and actions for systemic
in 2015 (5). To harness these dynamics and to ~700 GtCO2, which allows for a small but and long-term impact, creating the basis for

to calibrate for short-term realpolitik, we pro- essential contingency (~125 GtCO2 less com- the next steps. Such a narrative, specifically
pared with total CO2 emissions in the path- designed with decadal targets and incentives,
way in the figure, top) for risks of biosphere could provide key elements for national and
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 114 carbon feedbacks (6) or delay in ramping up international climate strategies.
18 Stockholm, Sweden. 2Future Earth, The Royal Swedish
CO2-removal technologies.
Academy of Sciences, 104 05 Stockholm, Sweden.
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 2361 A carbon law applies to all sectors and 20172020: NO-BRAINERS
Laxenburg, Austria. 4ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland. countries at all scales and encourages bold Annual emissions from fossil fuels must
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14473 action in the short term. It means, for ex- start falling by 2020. Well-proven (and ide-
Potsdam, Germany. 6Australian-German Climate and Energy
College, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, ample, doubling of zero-carbon shares in the ally income-neutral) policy instruments
Victoria 3010, Australia. Email: johan.rockstrom@su.se energy system every 5 to 7 years, a rate con- such as carbon tax schemes, cap-and-trade

SCIENCE sciencemag.org 24 MARCH 2017 VOL 355 ISSUE 6331 1269

Published by AAAS

A global carbon law and roadmap to make Paris goals a reality

Decarbonization pathway consistent with the Paris agreement
800 Limiting warming
Annual global CO2 emissions (GtCO2 /yr)

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions (gross)

Cumulative global anthropogenic CO2

emissions from 2017 onward (GtCO2)
below 2C with
66% probability Fossil fuel and industry
30 600
Land use and land-use change
20 Human carbon 400 Anthropogenic CO2 removals
emissions Land use and land-use change
10 200 Limiting warming
below 1.5C with Engineering CO2 sink (BECCS)
0 0 50% probability
Biosphere carbon sink
Biosphere carbon sinks
Land carbon sink
-10 Human carbon sinks
Ocean carbon sink
-20 Whiskers on total natural sinks:
the 90% range of
2010 2020 2030 2040 2050 2060 2070 2080 2090 2100 modeled uncertainties.

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Fossil fuel phase out Global carbon law guiding decadal pathways
Period of doubling (years)
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 40
100 Hydro

90 Nuclear
Share of primary energy (%)

Global CO2 emissions


80 Gas 30

70 CO2 removal (GtCO2/yr)


ga 25

60 al
nu CO2 emissions from
50 an
d ou

Oil of
20 land use (GtCO2/yr)
se Renewables

40 a
cre 15

30 ea r in
t ra

ta n

20 Coal

Co al gains
10 2015: Constant annu 5
2005: 2.8%
0 0.8%
2000 2010 2020 2030 2040 2050 2060 2070 2080 2090 2100 2020 2030 2040 2050

(Top) A deep decarbonization scenario scientifically consistent with the Paris Agreement (3) and its associated carbon fluxes as computed with a simple carbon cycle and climate
model (13). The carbon law scenario of halving emissions every decade is marginally more ambitious than the scenario presented. Meeting the Paris Agreement goals will require
bending the global curve of CO2 emissions by 2020 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. It furthermore depends on rising anthropogenic carbon sinks, from bioenergy carbon
capture and storage (BECCS) engineering (yellow) and land use (orange), as well as sustained natural sinks, to stabilize global temperatures. This scenario is broadly consistent
with a 75% probability of limiting warming to below 2C; a median temperature increase of 1.5C by 2100; estimated peak median temperature increase of 1.7C; a 50% probability
of limiting warming to below 1.5C by 2100; and CO2 concentrations of 380 ppm in 2100. See supplementary materials (SM). (Bottom left) Nonlinear renewable energy expansion
trajectories based on 20052015 global trends (13). Keeping the historical doubling times of around 5.5 years constant in the next three decades would yield full decarbonization
(blue area) in the entire energy sector by ~2040, with coal use ending around 20302035 and oil use, 20402045. Calculations, based on (5), are detailed in SM. (Bottom right)
Decadal staircase following a global carbon law of halving emissions every decade, a complementary fall in land-use emissions, plus ramping up CO2 removal technologies.

systems, feed-in tariffs, and quota ap- mediate moratorium on investment in new carbon development as a priority.
proaches should roll out at wide scale. Even unabated coal-based energy would minimize Food production contributes to >10%
these will be challenging in the emerg- future stranded assets. Chinas greenhouse of global GHG emissions (4) and weakens
ing global political climate. The European gas (GHG) output must continue to decrease natural carbon sinks yet has vast potential
Union emissions-trading scheme requires over the coming years, through aggressive for biological carbon removal. Innovative fi-
kick-starting through an appropriate floor funding of renewables, by abandoning coal nancial mechanisms are needed to incentiv-
price (>$50/metric ton CO2). expansion, and by closing mines. The richer ize carbon management in the food system.
The United Nations Framework Conven- coal-intensive countries must spearhead the Agro-industries, farms, and civil society
tion on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should coal exit, and countries like India and Indo- should develop a worldwide strategy for
transform into a vanguard forum where nesia must follow suit. sustainable food systems to drive healthier,
nations, businesses, nongovernmental or- By 2020, all cities and major corpora- low-meat diets (7) and reduce food waste
ganizations, and scientific communities tions in the industrialized world should (8). Health and sustainability cobenefits
meet to refine the roadmap. It is evident have decarbonization strategies in place. such as obesity and disease abatement,
that the current national commitments un- The 49 countries already committed to be pollution reduction, and ecosystems preser-
der the Paris Agreement must be strongly carbon neutral by 2050 should have ex- vationshould spur action.

enhanced at the first ratcheting-up cycle in panded to >100 countries by that time, and
2018 to 2020. implementation should be under way. The 2020 2030: HERCULEAN EFFORTS
Fossil-fuel subsidies, currently $500 billion gravest risk is that emerging economies, Economies must implement the no-brainer
to $600 billion per annum, must be elimi- such as South Africa, are driven down the mitigation measures plus the first wave of
nated by 2020, not 2025 as agreed by the conventional growth path by sheer inertia. smart and disruptive action. Improving
Group of Seven (G7) nations in 2016. An im- International efforts must incentivize low- energy efficiency alone would reduce emis-

1270 24 MARCH 2017 VOL 355 ISSUE 6331 sciencemag.org SCIENCE

Published by AAAS
sions 40 to 50% by around 2030 in many Aircraft fuel should be entirely carbon neu- rather than wishful thinking. The very nature
domestic and industrial cases (9). tral. Synthesized fuels, bio-methane, and hy- of disruptive progress requires revising the
In the 2020s, carbon pricing across the drogen are established alternatives. narrative of a detailed roadmap every 2 years,
world must expand to cover all GHG emis- After 2030, all building construction correcting near-term targets to reach the ulti-
sions, starting at $50 per metric ton at least must be carbon-neutral or carbon-negative. mate goal by evolutionary management.
and exceeding $400 per ton by mid-century. The construction industry must either use Although signs are positive that the world
By the end of that decade, coal will be about emissions-free concrete and steel or replace is on track to rapidly transform to a net-
to exit the global energy mix, cities like Co- those materials with zero- or negative-emis- zeroemissions global economy, contagion
penhagen and Hamburg will be fossil-fuel sions substances such as wood, stone, and dynamics cut both ways. If political signals
free, and cap-and-trade regimes should be carbon fiber. do not support a rapid transition, for exam-
firmly established across national and re- BECCS schemes totaling 1 to 2 GtCO2/year ple, by a failure to implement worldwide fi-
gional economic zones along with adequate would roll out, and R&D should focus on nancial and regulatory reform that places a
carbon taxes on air transport and shipping. doubling the annual rate of CO2 removal. cost on carbon, then it is difficult to imagine
Countries should follow Norway, Germany, We can expect that polycentric power grids keeping warming at well below 2C. How-
and the Netherlands and announce the using supraconductive cables will start sup- ever, the scale of momentum toward clean
phase-out of internal combustion engines plying energy in developing countries, and energy in the past decade suggests that it
in new cars by 2030 at the latest. Decarbon- radical new energy generation solutions will would seem foolish to try to halt the trend,
izing long-distance transport will be key, enter the market. given the growing evidence that decarbon-

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through renewable fuels, electrification, and Promising financial mechanisms to foster ization can be a major progrowth strategy.
replacing shorter-haul air traffic by rapid investments in necessary breakthroughs in- In global governance, climate stabiliza-
rail. These commitments will signal that the clude sovereign wealth funds designed for tion must be placed on par with economic
conventional model of reinvesting fossil-fuel transformation; effective international cor- development, human rights, democracy, and
revenues into exploration is obsolete. poration tax regimes (11); and inheritance peace. The design and implementation of
Public and private investment in research reforms that account for historical wealth the carbon roadmap should therefore take
and development (R&D) for climate solu- generated by fossil fuels without compensa- center stage at the UN Security Council, as
tions should increase by an order of mag- tion of externalities (12). these quintessential objectives increasingly
nitude between now and 2030. Substantial interact, influencing the stability and resil-
resources must be directed toward more 2040 2050: REVISE, REINFORCE ience of societies and the Earth system. j
efficient modes of industrial production; Building on successes and learning from fail-
battery-life extension and improved energy ures of previous stages, certain mitigation
1. UNFCCC, Paris Agreement (2015).
storage solutions; schemes strategies will be abandoned 2. H. J. Schellnhuber, S. Rahmstorf, R. Winkelmann, Nat. Clim.
that greatly reduce the cost and others refined and am- Chang. 6, 649 (2016).
3. J. Rogelj et al., Nat. Clim. Chang. 5, 519 (2015).
of carbon capture and stor- plified. All major European 4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate
age (CCS) within 10 years; al- the world is countries become close to Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change: Working
Group III Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report
ternative aircraft propulsion net-zero carbon states early
systems; super-smart power on track to in the 2040s; market dynam-
of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, O.
Edenhofer et al., Eds. (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge,
grids; and sustainable urban- rapidly transform ics push North and South 2014).
5. B. P. Global, BP Statistical Review of World Energy (BP
ization everywhere. America and most of Asia
We need urgent research to a net-zero and Africa to this goal by the
Global, ed. 65, 2016).
6. P. Ciais et al., in Climate Change 2013: The Physical
Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth
to ascertain the resilience of emissions global end of the decade. Natural
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
remaining biosphere carbon gas still provides some back- Climate Change, T. F. Stocker et al., Eds. (Cambridge Univ.
sinks (10). Strong financial economy... up energy, but CCS ensures Press, Cambridge, 2013), pp. 465570.
7. K.-H. Erb et al., Nat. Commun. 7, 11382 (2016).
impetus must be provided its carbon footprint is lim- 8. C. Hi et al., Environ. Sci. Technol. 10.1021/acs.
for afforestation of degraded land and for ited. Modular nuclear reactors may contrib- est.5b05088 (2016).
establishment of no-regret approaches to ute to the energy mix in places. 9. Global Energy Assessment Writing Team, Global Energy
Assessment: Toward a Sustainable Future (Cambridge
net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere By 2050, the world will have reached net- Univ. Press, Cambridge, and the International Institute for
such as the combination of second- and zero CO2 emissions, with a global economy Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, 2012).
third-generation bioenergy with CCS powered by carbon-free energy and fed 10. P. Williamson, Nature 530, 153 (2016).
11. T. Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century (Harvard Univ. Press,
(BECCS) or direct air CCS (DACCS). Trials from carbon-sequestering sustainable agri- Cambridge, MA, 2013).
of sustainable sequestration schemes of the culture. Meanwhile, BECCS schemes have 12. German Advisory Council on Global Change,
order of 100 to 500 MtCO2/year should be been scaled up and draw down >5 GtCO2/ Development and justice by transformation: The big four
Is (WBGU, Berlin, Germany, 2016).
well under way to resolve deployment is- year. Alternatively, concerns may rule out 13. M. Meinshausen, S. C. B. Raper, T. M. L. Wigley, Atmos.
sues relating to food security, biodiversity such scale-up. Only deep emission reduc- Chem. Phys. 11, 1417 (2011).
preservation, indigenous rights, and soci- tions during 20202030 can enable BECCS ACKNOWLEDGME NTS
etal acceptance. to be scaled back or abandoned, while ef- The authors draw on dialogues with Earth League members
forts to increase energy efficiency and (www.the-earth-league.org) on a carbon roadmap. The authors
2030 2040: MANY BREAKTHROUGHS DACCS continue. thank J. Falk (Intel IoT Ignition Lab) for discussions on expo-
nential approaches to decarbonization. M.M. was supported
By 2040, oil will be about to exit the global en- by Australian Research Council Future Fellowship grant no.
ergy mix. Several vanguard countries (such as STABILITY AND RESILIENCE FT130100809.
Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) should have We cannot predict where civilization will be
completed electrification of all sectors and be mid-century, but a decadal staircase based on
entirely emissions-free or close to it. Internal a carbon law, if adopted broadly, may provide
combustion engines for personal transport essential economic boundary conditions to
will have become rare on roads worldwide. make a zero-emissions future an inevitability 10.1126/science.aah3443

SCIENCE sciencemag.org 24 MARCH 2017 VOL 355 ISSUE 6331 127 1

Published by AAAS
A roadmap for rapid decarbonization
Johan Rockstrm, Owen Gaffney, Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen,
Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (March 23,
Science 355 (6331), 1269-1271. [doi: 10.1126/science.aah3443]

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